Beginning to Time Block a few days a week


#1

Related to the procrastination thread, I’m trying to work on some disciplines. I’m not sure why, but related to this, my mind has been really intrigued with “time blocking”.

I have things on my todo list, and generally I get the things done that I have to get done. However, a lot of bigger tasks tend to really hit my procrastination tendency. There are also a lot of tasks that I do that I have no clear idea of the length of time that they take. I think they take me 15 mins, but it could be that it’s 5 mins, or 30 mins, in reality. I realize some tasks on some weeks can be floating, and there’s generally no way of knowing with 100% certainty.

Anyway just doing a general assessment of my time with Timing has shown that I’m no where near as productive as I should be. I have vast amounts of wasted time during my day that I should be doing something more meaningful.

All that said, I’m toying with time blocking. I plan to do it at least 3 days a week and just see what patterns that I find. I hope that I expose some unproductive tendencies and I can work toward squashing whatever is causing that. :slight_smile:

I’ll reply back here once I have a little more data, but I’d love to hear if anyone has experience with this and if it’s been helpful in any capacity?


(Wilson Ng) #2

I’ve been playing with this myself in the last year.

I used to follow a “today” list where I would worked on flagged and due tasks only. But then I missed doing my Big Rock projects. I’d also not focus on my maintenance tasks (weekly reports, filing and archiving, housekeeping). This is in addition to the daily interruptions in life and the unavoidable meetings/appointments that become a timesucker.

I detailed my struggles and workflow here:

https://productivityguild.com/t/managing-my-dumpster-fires-in-omnifocus-an-omnifocus-workflow/?source_topic_id=1398

It is OmniFocus oriented but I can imagine the basic principles can be applied to your needs.

I know that I try to schedule one time block of 30 minutes to 2 hours in the morning dedicated to administrative work and one time block of 30 minutes to 2 hours in the afternoon dedicated to my special projects (Big Rocks of the week).

The rest of the time can be dedicated to daily interruptions (walk-in customers, phone calls, unexpected emergencies) and meetings (hopefully kept to a minimum).

I try to make sure my maintenance tasks are the first things to get done because they are my frogs to eat (the disgusting tasks that i can’t stand but gotta get done). Sometimes I might switch the morning time block to a Big Rock project that is my current frog (perhaps doing my 1040 taxes?).

But I try to make sure I get at least one time block dedicated to maintenance tasks and one time block for Big Rocks.

But if I can’t seem to get anything done, I’ll do the bare minimum and get the overdue/due today/due soon items first and handle whatever disaster/emergency today.

An example happened yesterday. I had a shipment arrive at our warehouse and I was working with my co-workers on our new Christmas arrival. I got a phone call close to noon. One of my rental duplex units had a water leak start to spew like a a geyser. It gave up the ghost. So I had to re-arrange everything and run down to the local Home Depot to get all the parts, arrange for my handyman to schedule an emergency visit, deliver the hardware (no time to schedule a delivery), and oversee the installation of the new water heater and disposal of the old water heater. I had to put everything aside that afternoon but was able to work on some of the due items in my OmniFocus Due perspective.

I think time blocking really helps if you give each time block a theme. My morning time block is maintenance work and my afternoon time block is Big Rock. If I can expand the time block to fill up the unscheduled hours, I’m grateful.

Hope to hear about your findings and see what you come up with.


(Tyler Weitzman) #3

I’ve just started doing this using the pomodoro technique 2-3 weeks ago and I’ve had great success with it. For those who aren’t familiar, pomodoro technique is a cycle of 25 minutes of focused work followed by 5 minutes of break and then repeat.

First, I started using tomato-timer.com and since then I’ve bought a physical cube timer: https://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Management-5-10-20-25-Minute-Preset/dp/B06XS1SSQ5/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1506485670&sr=8-4&keywords=cube+timer

While the timer is running for the 25 minutes, I do not allow myself to work on anything but the project that I decided I will focus on in that time when I turned on the timer. If I accidentally get distracted and start working on something else, I will discount that block and restart the timer again.

I’ve been working my way up since then to see how many pomodoro blocks I can accomplish to get done every day and how soon I can get them done. I’ve been doing this systematically in order to increase my chances of success. Last week, I consistently did six timed pomodoro blocks every day and this week I’m doing seven timed pomodoro blocks every day. Next week, I will do eight pomodoro blocks every day.

Pomodoro cycles are easy to count because the 25 minute work and 5 minute break add up to half an hour. I aim to try and get my seven pomodoro blocks by 2:30pm.

Time Pomodoro
9am - 9:30am Morning Routine
9:30am - 10am Morning Routine
10:00am - 10:30am 1st pomodoro
10:30am - 11am 2nd pomodoro
11am - 11:30am 3rd pomodoro
11:30am - noon 4th pomodoro
noon - 12:30pm 5th pomodoro
12:30pm - 1pm Lunch
1pm - 1:30pm Lunch
1:30pm - 2:00pm 6th pomodoro
2:00pm - 2:30pm 7th pomodoro
2:30pm - Work as usual that isn’t fully engaged

Eventually I could theoretically do 18 pomodoros before bed time

Doing this kind of deep work feels so great. And the small 30 minute unit sizes makes my schedule flexible for meetings in one of those slots if needed.

I’m still not sure whether it’s better to put the “frogs to eat” as you call them first or later. The morning is such a good rested time that I feel it should be used for “Big Rocks,” but the frogs are also very distracting…


(Wilson Ng) #4

Wow… I envy you. You have 9 am to 2:30 pm all to yourself. I can usually get a one hour time block (hopefully 1.5 hours) in the morning and one to two hours in the afternoon. My world is unpredictable and I have to move things around just to make sure I can get my time blocks.


#5

Ok so this past week I did time blocking for M, W, Th. I really really enjoyed it. I felt like it really has helped me hone in on what it takes to complete some tasks and how much wasted time I have on some days. For instance, my mornings need to be more structured. I have a good hour that I’m frittering away on a couple of those days. And my afternoons are more productive when I see I have a 3 hour block that I can fill.

I’m going to continue the experiment for the next couple weeks but overall I think this is going to stick. I like the ability to see my days at a glance and see what I worked on over the past week and also plan for later in the week as well. :+1:t2::+1:t2:


(Wilson Ng) #6

It’s great to see you blocking out time and making yourself unavailable to others to work on your blocks.

Did you have a theme for each time block? I’ve been time blocking with specific goals in mind. One time block for administrative work, one for a specific context (email, Mac work, warehouse work, or other contexts), and another time block specifically for a big rock project.


#7

Yea as I think about it I generally had a theme.

7-8a: Personal Time (reading a book, daily review, etc…)
8-9a: Administrative (Email, Phone, etc…)
9-11:30a: “Frogs” as you call them :grimacing: Just get them done.
12-4: Big Rocks. Trying to chip away at some larger projects.

It of course wasn’t flawless this past week but generally worked. I may move my frogs to the afternoon when I can as I have felt more productive in the morning this past week.


(Wilson Ng) #8

It helps to work in batches, whether it’s a context or a project of some kind.

Nothing is ever flawless. Life always gets in the way and likes to throw a monkey wrench into our lives. There will be days when I’ve had emergencies that took over my entire day. Remaining flexible and not feeling down about my inaction has been important.

Yeah, this is something I’ve been struggling with. Sometimes I just get inspired or have a certain mindset (brain on :fire:) and I just have to work on a Big Rock instead of my frogs.


#9

This. :100:

I had been struggling the last month with feeling guilty when “life took over”. I’m doing good now though. :sunglasses:


(Wilson Ng) #10

Maybe we have to arrange our timeblocks around our internal body clock? I noticed that I have the capacity to do some deep mental work in the morning after my morning cup of coffee. I can do deep work from 9 am - 1030 am before I start to lose gas. Then I will do some physical work away from the desk from 1030 am - 1200 noon and depart for lunch.

After lunch, I sometimes hit the midday slump and take a quick 20 minute nap. It might just be closing my eyes and not do anything or I might be able to hit some light sleep.

Afterwards I might be able to do some deep mental work. If I’m not ready for deep mental work, I’ll continue with some physical work such as checking my sales floor, interacting with my colleagues on other work issues, or anything that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.

Then I can feel my mind starting to click at around 4 pm. I can hit the desk and get back to work on any project that requires my brain to be on 4th gear.

Maybe we need to listen to our body for a few weeks and see what time slots are available for deep work and what time slots are appropriate for brain dead work?

I’ve been trying to stay away from too many chemical stimulants. I limit myself to the 1 cup of coffee in the morning. No caffeine afterwards. I think I might try a half cup of caffeine in the morning and a half cup after lunch to see if that helps. I’m not interested in killing myself with those super caffeinated energy drinks or drinking more than one cup of coffee.

Maybe I need to see a dietician for advice on some snacks that work. Perhaps an apple or orange in the afternoon to put some natural sugar in my veins?


#11

Indeed. I know part of my problem is simply mental. Usually just taking a breath. Standing up and stepping away from the computer helps. I sometimes dream of figuring out the perfect layout of my day and I become super productive. Just knocking things out left and right. :wink:

Yea, I drink way too much coffee (3 cups a day). That’s something I know I need to work on, but man is it good! :joy: I do balance out and try to drink twice as much water.

Diet. Yea… I do eat fruits in the afternoon. I will often eat an apple, orange, or some strawberries. Or just a snack in general (pretzels, non-sugar / salted nuts)


(Curtis Spendlove) #12

Time Blocking is a fantastic technique. And of course the pomodoro is the best way to do it. :wink:

I just wanted to chime in on the “life happens” subject. Don’t beat yourself up. It is easy to get discouraged. But remember if you pause to take care of the fires then you can get back to deep work faster.

I find nowadays I don’t even time block regularly. As a developer, one’s goal is to consistently reach the “flow” state. If you can drop into this you can often get an hour (or 10) of “deep work” done very efficiently.

I usually only drop back to pomodoros now if my ADHD is winning the battle or if I’m otherwise distracted. I have made an ingrained habit as to what sorts of work I should be doing at any time of the day.

You’ll get there. It is different for everyone…took me about six months of routine.


(Joe Buhlig) #13

This is me to a “T”. There are times when my phone dings to tell me it’s lunch time and I realize I just spent three hours running very smoothly and cranking out a lot of great work. Now I just wish that was something I could invoke whenever I want. :wink:


(Curtis Spendlove) #14

Deep Flow on-demand…now we’re talking!

For those working toward finding their flow, I’ll just toss this out. Don’t fight your brain. Let it lead you. Over those six months I was able to just try a bunch of stuff. Shift things around. Does checking email at the start of your day feel weird? Try at different times over the course of a week to find what works well for you. Eventually you’ll find the patterns that your brain responds to best.

Incidentally, this is what led me to my email categorization rules. I found that after lunch and late evenings (after meals, basically) work best for me to process email. Of course, this meant I might not see fires. So I had to work out an urgency system so nothing that was an actual emergency slipped through the cracks.